One money lesson to teach kids? How to give



Myles Ma

Myles Ma

Senior Reporter

Myles Ma is a senior reporter at Policygenius, where he covers personal finance and insurance and writes the Easy Money newsletter. His expertise has been featured in The Washington Post, PBS, CNBC, CBS News, USA Today, HuffPost, Salon, Inc. Magazine, MarketWatch, and elsewhere.

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Your parents may have taught you how to save with a piggy bank or budget with an allowance. But there may be one overlooked, impactful financial lesson: giving.

A study of how money lessons get passed down through generations found a majority of people cited financial giving as one of the most important lessons they learned.

"Giving teaches kids about money management," said Ashley LeBaron, a doctoral student at the University of Arizona who conducted the study, which was published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues.

The study shows how important it is for parents to teach their children about money, LeBaron said. Parents can be more influential than school, work, media and peers when it comes to finances.

"When we think about money it's almost like a dirty word," LeBaron said. "It's all about 'Me, me, me,' and 'How can I get more?' but I think money can be really powerful when we use what we have to bless other people."

For example, allocating a certain amount of a child's allowance to charity is one way to teach them about budgeting.

Read our roundup of the most popular budgeting apps.

What the study found

The study was based on interviews with 115 participants, comprised of college students at three American universities, their parents and their grandparents.

Each participant was asked what they were taught about money and what they taught others about money. Financial giving was a major lesson — 83% said it was an important part of their financial education.

"It's really nice and heartwarming that one of the main things kids are being taught about money, or at least one of the things they remembered their parents had taught them, was to give their money away," LeBaron said.

The study found three ways of giving parents taught their children.

Charitable donations: Monetary gifts to religious or charitable organizations.

Acts of kindness: Informal donations, gifts or acts of service provided directly to people in need, like providing meals to homeless people or buying Christmas gifts for families in need.

Investments in family: Financial decisions made to benefit the family. For example, when parents sacrifice their own wants to afford music lessons or a family vacation.

How to teach your children about giving

Some of the parents interviewed for the study had ideas for giving that their children remembered decades later, LeBaron said.

One example was Christmas ding dong ditch. Here's how it works: Parents and children buy gifts together for a family in need. Then, the child leaves the gift on the family's doorstep, rings the bell, runs away and hides. Together, the family gets to watch the recipient's reaction when they open the door.

Some parents taught by example. One person they interviewed said every time she was with her parent at a grocery store and the cashier asked if they wanted to donate to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the parent would always say yes.

"She learned to be in the habit of giving," LeBaron said.

Many parents ask LeBaron how early they should start teaching their children about money and giving. As young as possible, LeBaron said.

"Basic financial principles, including giving, can be learned by people as young as toddler age," LeBaron said. "The earlier that parents get started at helping these kids form these habits and values, the better."

Here are some more ways to teach your kids about money.

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